The Writing Traveler: A story at the end of every road

The Old Country Store alongside a backroad running through Lorman, Mississippi. Photo: J Gerald Crawford

The miles are endless.  So are the stories. I find them most when I listen to other voices while traveling to other towns.

During my years of writing travel, I’ve talked to a lot of strangers.

The voices stay with me.

So do the stories they told me.

The voices may come from down the road a piece, at the counter of a diner, on the bar stool in a beer joint, sitting in the front yard of a mountain cabin, along a stretch of spun-sugar sand, back in the darkness of a pine thicket, amidst the downtown traffic jam of a city at sundown, or from the faint memories of a distant past.

Everyone who crosses my path has a story to tell. It may be personal. It may be something that happened last week or the year before. It may have been handed down for more than a single generation. It may even be true, but who knows anymore?

Mountains fade into the distance. Beaches are timeless. The tides come and they go, but once they have gone, they are gone forever. New tides arrive at their appointed hour, but the old ones have washed back into the mysteries of a timeless sea.

The city is an abstract sculpture of steel and glass, but so is the next one, and the next one. The cities, in reality, are only small towns separated by sidewalks instead of city limit signs.

Voices remain eternal.

Caleb Pirtle

Some people collect coins and stamps, model ships and lighthouses, driftwood and seashells, cars and boats, paintings and homemade crafts.

I collect stories.

The winner of a beauty pageant whose talent was standing on her head with a mouthful of pennies, humming John Philip Sousa’s Stars and Stripes Forever.

The old rancher who bought the entire town of Luckenbach so he could keep the beer joint open and have a cold beer anytime he wanted one, day or night.

The old man who camps beside the cemetery so he won’t have to leave his wife.

The beachcomber who came to Padre Island to die after World War I. His lungs had been ruined in a mustard gas attack. Sixty years had passed. He was still combing the beaches.

The miles are endless.  So are the stories. I find them most when I listen to other voices while traveling to other towns. I began in Texas, writing feature stories for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, spent a few years promoting Texas with Governor John Connally’s Texas Tourist Development Agency, and finally moved on through the South as Southern Living Magazine’s first travel editor.

I couldn’t read a road map.

So I took back roads.

Crossroads.

Paved road.

Dirt roads.

Wrong roads.

Ruts where only the wheels of wagons had gone before.

I was little more than a lost ball in the tall weeds.

But I found towns I wasn’t supposed to find and was always a stranger among strangers where the next story was just down the street, around the corner, across the river, past the cotton gin, and if you go too far you’ll miss it, and if you go even farther, the road runs out.

Not all of the places are on the map.

Not all of them want to be.

A lot of my stories about the people and places I wrote about can be found in Confessions from the Road. Please click HERE to find the book on Amazon.

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